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Ben McLemore
Courtesy of Cassy Athena

Grizzlies free-agent pickup Ben McLemore sidelined by foot surgery

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – It’s simply another tough break for the Memphis Grizzlies.

There’s no other way to frame this one. It’s literally a tough break with news that shooting guard Ben McLemore, the Grizzlies’ top free-agent acquisition this summer, underwent successful surgery Tuesday after being diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metatarsal in his right foot during an offseason training session late last week in California.

According to team officials, McLemore was playing in a pick-up game when he inadvertently stepped on another player’s foot. In other words, McLemore was doing his normal preparation to get himself ready for training camp workouts. It’s a freak incident that could have happened to any NBA player on any team’s roster.

It’s just a shame it seems to keep freaking happening to the Grizzlies.

McLemore’s fracture is literally a tough break for Memphis. That’s also the case figuratively, because it’s yet another example of hope absorbing a left hook to the gut before the Grizzlies could collectively gather themselves to start a fair fight. McLemore is expected to miss about three months to recover, but team officials are confident he will make a full recovery and indicate his status will be reevaluated entering the regular season.

Unfortunately, this shifts the narrative again. Instead of examining how Memphis has reloaded and reshuffled the supporting cast around catalysts Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, the focus will be on another rehab that sidelines a prominent rotation player when training camp opens late next month.

Sound familiar?

It should. A year ago, it was Chandler Parsons who arrived in free agency as the shiny new rotation upgrade after signing a four-year, $94 million contract. The difference then, though, was the Grizzlies knew – to an extent – there would be limitations as Parsons worked his way back from knee problems.

Parsons never really got going last season and stumbled between progress with one knee and setbacks with the other before he was shut down in March to have his third knee procedure in as many years. And two years ago along this same stretch in the 2015 offseason, incoming first-round draft pick Jarell Martin fractured his foot in a workout that derailed much of his rookie season.

McLemore, a 24-year-old former lottery pick in Sacramento, signed a two-year, $10.7 million contract with Memphis to bring shooting, youth and athleticism to the wing rotation. He’s still expected to add those dynamics. Eventually. Exactly when won’t be known until he makes a full recovery, which the team expects.

It’s been an offseason of transition for the Grizzlies on the perimeter, where 40-year-old Vince Carter departed in free agency to Sacramento and 35-year-old Tony Allen remains a free agent. Forward and fan favorite Zach Randolph also departed in free agency for a two-year deal with the Kings.

McLemore was a top target for the Grizzlies, who also added former University of Memphis star and veteran guard Tyreke Evans to restock the perimeter. The team also brought back popular combo guard Mario Chalmers on a partially-guaranteed deal.

But all three players are now linked by a recent injury history that tempers some of the enthusiasm that otherwise would have unequivocally accompanied their acquisitions.

Chalmers, who had an immediate impact in Memphis when he arrived two years ago in a trade from Miami, missed all of last season to recover from a torn Achilles. Evans has career averages of 16.1 points, 5.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds over nine seasons, but has been limited to a total of just 65 games over the past two seasons. McLemore, an ironman who didn’t miss a game through his first two NBA seasons, has battled nagging injuries, coaching changes and confidence issues the past two years.

And now this.

The Grizzlies will regroup in the interim. This further fast-tracks the development of Wayne Selden Jr. at shooting guard on the heels of his breakout performance in last month’s Las Vegas Summer League. This also potentially pushes Troy Daniels and James Ennis into more prominent roles entering camp.

Memphis is already beyond 15 partial or fully-guaranteed contracts on the roster. So, barring a trade, it reduces the chances that another prominent outside free agent will be added to the mix to anything other than a make-good training camp invite.

But there are options. And there remains hope.

The Grizzlies and McLemore can regain their footing from this latest setback.

They just can’t afford another unfortunate misstep.

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